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Weakness By Design

From the February 11, 2003 Dallas Morning News: Europe is in conflict with America largely because it has consciously decided to become weak.

11:00 PM, Feb 11, 2003 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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TOD LINDBERG knew he had something big. Lindberg is editor of Policy Review, a publication of the Hoover Institution. More than a year ago, he had commissioned several articles on the subject of American power. The one Robert Kagan wrote caught his eye. "It was quite apparent on first reading that it was going to be huge," Lindberg says. "People were going to agree or disagree, but the article was going to shape debate."

"Power and Weakness," appearing in the June-July issue, drew notice throughout Europe. It was reprinted in every important European city, its themes taken up in learned conferences and symposiums across the continent.

Kagan, a senior associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a resident of Brussels, turned his 11,000-word essay into a book, which has just been published. Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order is compelling reading, not least because it aids understanding as to why Europe and America are at odds over going to war against Iraq.

Kagan's basic argument is that American and European perspectives on "the all-important question of power"--its efficacy, morality and desirability--are diverging. The Europeans have moved "beyond power," as Kagan puts it, "into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation," a "post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity."

In history, or before paradise, of course, Europe used power, over and over. We Americans, Kagan says, are the ones who still live in history, an often nasty, brutish place where international law and rules are unreliable and where security and indeed the defense of liberal values ultimately may have to depend on an order from our commander in chief.

Kagan shows that "the trans-Atlantic divide" isn't momentary but has deep historical roots and is likely to endure. Europe experienced so much war on its own soil, including the great world wars, that it came to want no more of it. Defense budgets of European countries are tiny and declining--America's remains significantly higher--and the European Union, while economically a success, noticeably has failed to develop a military capacity. Europe has little ability to use force beyond its borders, while America can project power to all points on the globe.

In sum, Europe is weak, and America is strong. And each is that way not by accident but by design. Each, if you will, believes in being the way it is. And being what they are, Europe and America "measure risks and threats differently, define security differently and . . . have different levels of tolerance for insecurity."

Iraq is the current case in point. Being strong and therefore able to do something about it, Kagan writes, America is less willing to tolerate Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. But a weak Europe regards the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to be more tolerable than the risk of removing him. Europe would use peaceful means to try to bring him into the community of nations. Europe also would use the United Nations to try to constrain any American effort to use force against Iraq.

Very soon, we could see such an attempt: France, which responded to Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council by calling for stronger inspections, could veto any resolution that might be taken as an authorization for the United States to commence an invasion of Iraq.

There can be little doubt that America would refuse to feel obligated by any such veto. As Kagan explains, America sees itself--and September 11 only has confirmed this perception--as "the indispensable nation," the one country that must assert itself if there is to be an stable international order and if liberty is to be advanced.

That isn't the way Europe regards America. Europeans, Kagan writes, see America as a danger, even more of one than Iraq. America is so regarded precisely because its power and its willingness to use it threaten Europe's new sense of mission.

The question "Of Power and Paradise" raises is whether some European countries--France and Germany in particular--might "become positively estranged" from America. The war in Iraq could lead to that unfortunate outcome. Yet one must hope the war would remind Europe of "the vital necessity," as Kagan puts it, "of having a strong, even predominant America."

Terry Eastland is publisher of The Weekly Standard.